On ballots this Nov. 7, Proposition 83, called Jessica's Law, is a well-intentioned campaign to toughen punishments for and protect children from sex offenders.
But one provision, by protecting children who live in big cities, could endanger youth who live in less populated areas like the Hi-Desert.
If passed by voters, Prop 83 would ban all convicted sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of schools or parks anywhere in California.
The bill also allows local governments to declare more locations off limits to sex offenders.
Jessica's Law will make it difficult for registered sex offenders to find homes in densely populated urban areas. A review of a map provided by state lawmakers reveals that offenders won't legally be able to live almost anywhere in San Francisco; most of urban Los Angeles will be off limits, too.
So where are they going to go?
It's likely more sex offenders will move to less populated rural areas, like the Morongo Basin. Here, it will be less easy to keep track of offenders. There are fewer law officers here and an area like the Basin does not have as many support resources such as job services and mental-health clinics to treat or monitor sex offenders.
State Sen. Dean Florez, whose district is in a mostly rural region of Central California, calls Prop 83 “predator dumping.”
He could be right.
Prop 83 contains some excellent provisions. It lengthens prison sentences and parole for violent sex offenders.
It would make possession of child pornography a felony, although Governor Schwarzenegger already has signed a law that does the same thing.
But it could also mean that rural children are endangered by an influx of sex offenders.
It looks likely that Jessica's Law is going to pass. Polls have found it to be popular among voters.
If it does become law, the state cannot be allowed to strand the Hi-Desert with scores of new residents with dark pasts.
The Hi-Desert already has too many sex offenders who are out of compliance with their registration – in other words, whose whereabouts are unknown by law enforcement.
The Megan's Law Web site indicates that of the sex offenders listed under that law, four in Yucca Valley, one in the Landers and Johnson Valley area, one in Morongo Valley and two in Twentynine Palms are missing. Officers don't know where they are. Eight may seem like a small number, but eight missing sex offenders are eight too many. What will happen if law officers must keep tabs on many new sex offenders forced into the area?
As it stands now, the Morongo Basin does not have the resources to cope with Prop 83. If – or when – it passes, the state and especially the bill's sponsors in the legislature must make sure our children are as safe as those in the big city.